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Germany pledges to stand with France in fight against IS
[PARIS] Germany pledged on Wednesday to stand beside France in its fight against Islamic State jihadists, as French President Francois Hollande prepared to visit Moscow as part of his whirlwind diplomatic tour in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Mr Hollande met his closest EU partner during a week of intense but so far faltering efforts to build a coalition to crush IS in Iraq and Syria - a campaign that has been further complicated by a diplomatic spat between Russia and Turkey.
The French president said he hoped Germany "can do even more in the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq", using another term for IS, which claimed responsibility for the killings in Paris.
Dr Merkel in response pledged to act "swiftly" to see how Germany could take on "additional responsibilities" to help in the fight against terrorism.
"We will be stronger than the terror," she said, pledging to stand "at France's side".
Earlier, the French and German leaders each laid a pink rose among the tributes of flowers and candles in Place de la Republique, the Paris square that has become a rallying point since the bloodshed.
France has invoked a clause requiring EU member states to provide military assistance after the November 13 attacks, in which Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in the French capital.
Germany said on Wednesday it would send 650 soldiers to Mali to provide some relief to French forces battling jihadists in the west African nation.
Mr Hollande will now head to Moscow on Thursday to press his case for an anti-IS alliance to President Vladimir Putin, after receiving few firm commitments from President Barack Obama in Washington.
Meanwhile in Britain, Prime Minister Cameron will on Thursday set out the case for his country to extend its air strikes against IS from Iraq into Syria ahead of a vote by MPs next week.
The British premier has called IS "direct threat to our security at home and abroad" and on Monday offered to let France use the RAF Akrotiri air base in Cyprus when flying missions against the jihadists.
Mr Hollande's diplomatic efforts took a blow this week when Turkey shot down a Russian jet, sparking a diplomatic spat between the rival powers fighting in Syria that has threatened to escalate into a wider conflict.
Turkey's military said Wednesday it did not know the warplane it shot down was Russian and it was ready for "all kinds of cooperation" with Russia, after Moscow called the incident a "planned provocation".
Moscow has intensified its strikes in Syria after IS claimed it brought down a Russian passenger plane over Egypt last month, killing all 224 people on board.
Russia carried out heavy raids in Syria's northern Latakia province on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said, in the same area where Turkey downed the Russian fighter.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has backed the French president's proposal to close off the Syria-Turkey border, considered the main crossing point for foreign fighters seeking to join IS.
"I think this is a good proposal and tomorrow president Hollande will talk to us in greater detail about it. We would be ready to seriously consider the necessary measures for this," Mr Lavrov said in Moscow.
French jets on Monday launched their first air strikes from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the French parliament, which overwhelming supported more air strikes against IS, that "there is no alternative, we must annihilate Daesh".
But Mr Hollande's efforts to foster closer coordination between Russia and the US in their fight against IS got a cool reception from Mr Obama on Tuesday.
The US president said the problem Washington faced was "Russia's focus on propping up (Syrian President) Assad rather than focusing on ISIL", using another acronym for IS.
Mr Obama sought to reassure Americans travelling home for Thanksgiving that his government was "taking every possible step to keep our homeland safe".